Final Fantasy V: ATB

FF5 does not actually have a monster called AAA.  It does, however, have one called ????.Combat in Final Fantasy V is handled through a system called “Active Time Battle”, or ATB. Introduced in FF4, it’s somewhere between realtime and turn-based systems. It has a Wizardry-like abstractness, in that there’s no tactical movement on a battle grid or anything like that. The monsters and the party are displayed graphically (usually with the PC’s on the right side facing the monsters on the left, because that’s the direction that seems like forward to people who read Japanese), but this is basically just a more visually interesting way of presenting a list of creatures. That much was true of the FF combat interface before ATB. The distinctive part, the thing that makes it ATB, is the realtime bit, wherein each combatant has a timer that governs when they can take an action. Each player character’s timer is represented on-screen by a gauge that fills up at a rate governed by the character’s Speed rating. When it’s full, you get to select something from a small menu that pops up at the bottom of the screen, typically including the options “fight”, “item”, and, if relevant, “magic” (although the Job system adds complications to this). But while you’re making your selection, the clock is still ticking. If you’re not fast, the monsters can get in an attack while you’re making up your mind. (This is another reason why it can be good for your tanks to be berserk: that way the game doesn’t waste time asking you what they should do.)

The whole system is very strongly associated with Final Fantasy in my mind. Fight/Magic/Item is as emblematic of Final Fantasy combat as Name/Job/Bye is of Ultima conversations. And the only game I’ve ever seen that even tried to do something similar to ATB was Grandia 2, another Japanese console RPG, which places an ATB-like action timer (albeit with a different user interface) in a system with less abstraction and more running around the battlefield. Presumably the patent 1Be sure to click on the “more” link where that page displays the diagrams. They’re really the best part. prevents a direct imitation, but given the popularity of the Final Fantasy games, you might expect more outfits to try to create similar gameplay.

But gameplay is not perceived as the Final Fantasy‘s strong point. Ask the fans what they like about the series, and they’ll talk about the stories, the characters, the worlds. It’s strange, then, that in FF5 I’m finding the gameplay (mastering the Jobs system) more engaging than the storyline (defeat the one-dimensional Bwa-ha-ha villain).

1 Be sure to click on the “more” link where that page displays the diagrams. They’re really the best part.

3 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 9 Jan 2008

    The thing is, FFV represents one of only a few incarnations of the job system in the entire series. There’s FFIII’s fairly primitive take, V’s more mature take, FF:Tactics’ use of it in a grid based tactical game that makes it the most compelling to me, and then FFX-2, which has the lovely innovation of letting you switch jobs in mid-combat, but loses focus in other areas and moves at a really rapid clip in combat, making it sometimes rather frustrating.

    (There’s also Tactics Advance and FFXI, but I don’t think they signify as the former is a lamer rehash of Tactics and the latter is an MMO.)

    And Tactics was actually the American market’s first real taste of the Job system, since V and III were both very late coming to our shores. Since the system really strikes me as the only compelling gameplay mechanism the series has come up with, I don’t think it’s surprising that FF isn’t especially loved for its gameplay.

  2. lefty on 9 Jan 2008

    if i’m playing it on an electronic system, i prefer the mechanics of a CRPG rather than the story…the Job system is something that makes it sound like I might be interested in a FF game after FF I (where you can pick your character classes, so there’s replay value). In fact, here’s my old essay/rant about what we call (computer) RPGs should really have a different name….ORKO-PLAYING GAMES.

  3. lefty on 10 Jan 2008

    PS: OMFG…i have just now reviewd the Patent illustrations, including the one you attached. & Einstein working in a patent office makes more sense now. If he saw much zany insanity like that, one could imagine eventually anyone would have a Zen-like Moment of Cosmic Intuition & understand how the universe works.

    Who’s your favorite? I like the Cute Feety-Pajama Ninja. Though the Glam Superhero’s pretty cool, & you should never bet against a smiling Hawk Man with an oversized backpack..

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